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Searching for Whitopia: An Improbable Journey to the Heart of White America Hardcover – October 6, 2009

4.3 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starting in 2007, Benjamin, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan think tank Demos, and, more significantly, an African-American, spent two years traveling through America's whitest communities—patches of Idaho and Utah and even pockets of New York City—where, according to his research, more and more white people have been seeking refuge from the increasingly multicultural reality that is mainstream America. There's plenty of potential in this premise, but Benjamin writes without any sense of purpose, alternating between undigested interviews with policy experts, self-indulgent digressions on the pleasures of golf and real estate shopping and sketchy portraits of his subjects. Despite Benjamin's countless conversations with everyone from Ed Gillespie, former head of the GOP, to a drunk in an Idaho bar, he never offers any fresh insights or practical suggestions. He concludes by barraging the reader with a series of unearned musts: we must revitalize the public sector, we must work hard for a new universalism. If his time in the nation's whitest enclaves gave him any specific thoughts about how those ideals might be achieved, he would have done well to share them. (Nov.)
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Review

"It sounds like a recipe for a riot: an inquisitive black writer journeying into some of the most segregated neighborhoods in the country. But Benjamin...pulls off his quest with good cheer."―Time

"[Benjamin] offers in the end a chilling vision of the future for progressive values."―Daily Kos

"Benjamin examines the history, politics, economics, and culture of race and class as seen in the growth of these `whitopias,' racially and therefore socioeconomically exclusive communities from the exurb St. George, Utah to the inner-city enclave of Carnegie Hill in Manhattan. . . . This is a thoroughly engaging and eye-opening look at an urgent social issue."―Booklist starred review

"The revelatory chapters about New York City made me want to cry . . . Generous and understanding to all of its subjects, Searching for Whitopia is a eulogy for an unsustainable America lifestyle."―Christian Lander, creator of Stuff White People Like

"A courageous book that holds a mirror up to our country--and the reflection is one we can no longer afford to ignore."―David Sirota, author and syndicated columnist

"Rich Benjamin's Searching for Whitopia will be a major publication, widely read and discussed. Its influence is likely to be enduring."―Andrew Ross, author of The Celebration Chronicles: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Property Value in Disney's New Town

"I've always found it easy to dismiss exurban gated communities, so it didn't bother me too much when Rich Benjamin showed them in a less than flattering light, but the revelatory chapters about New York City made me want to cry. . . . Generous and understanding to all of its subjects, Searching for Whitopia is a eulogy for an unsustainable lifestyle that flies in the face of a changing America."―Christian Lander, creator of Stuff White People Like

"An essential tool in questioning, appreciating and better understanding these most historic times. As we move forward in a brand new America, Rich Benjamin's Searching for Whitopia gives us clues as to how our population might resettle and regroup, on our way to becoming a more (or less) perfect union."―Edwidge Danticat, author of Breath, Eyes, Memory and Brother, I'm Dying

"Rich Benjamin goes where no (sane) black man has gone before -- into the palest enclaves, like Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, to those places where white Americans have fled to escape from the challenges of diversity. The result is a daring feat of 21st-century exploration that will have you laughing and shuddering at the same time."―Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America

"An account of a black man's journey through the whitest communities of America is bound to be thought-provoking, especially when the voyager is as observant and articulate as Rich Benjamin. A very entertaining read with a message worth pondering."―Robert D. Putnam, professor of public policy, Harvard, and author of Bowling Alone

"Exploring the identity, inhabitants, and social and political implications of...small towns...is the premise of Benjamin's provocative new book."―The Daily Beast
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion; First Edition edition (October 6, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1401322689
  • ISBN-13: 978-1401322687
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #362,153 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By S. J. Snyder on March 11, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Rich Benjamin goes to a number of Whitopias (the concept is defined, demographically, in appendices) and actually lives in three of them. He approaches his subject without apparent bias aforethought, and with excellent research eyes.

In his research he distinguished between different types of Whitopias, whether the reasons for their development are more conscious or unconscious. Beyond that, he extensively interviews individual residents, to give the different Whitopias an individualized profile.

He also notes that natives don't always "cotton to" outside whites.

He provides a few statistics that I didn't know, as part of the possibility America may be "majority nonwhite" by 2050. For the whites fleeing blacks and Hispanics for purely racial, or racial-economic reasons, and at the same time, often fleeing Asians because "their kids study too hard for our kids," he has "bad" news I didn't know... the Asian population is growing faster than even the Hispanic population.

Beyond that, he asks what do whitopias, more exurban ones like Forsyth County, Ga., than freestanding St. George, Utah or the Idaho Panhandle, mean for the future of American infrastructure, whith highways, sewer, zoning tussles and more. And, what do all whitopias mean in terms of future American cohesiveness?

Without offering undue condemnation, Benjamin offers condemnation where it is due for these exurbs being used as a shield to avoid discussing race, and worries that broader social integration may have peaked in much of the country, at least for now.

If you want a very insightful -- and very well-written -- take on modern demographics, this is it!
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Format: Hardcover
I really enjoyed this book. I felt that Benjamin handled his interactions with residents of the Whitopian locations he spent a fair amount of time in, very well. Through ethnographic research and open-minded analysis, he attempts to paint white people who live in Whitopias as complex people who are not necessarily overtly racist. Benjamin, a Black American, felt rather welcomed in all of the Whitopian towns that he lived in for his 2 years of field research to write the book.

I was first excited to learn about the book because I was curious how a Black identified American would navigate pre-dominantly white class privileged (mostly conservative) towns, and remain good spirited-- especially being part of events in which people had affiliations to Aryan Nation... or meeting with a white guy who half-jokingly tells him that when he is alone with his white friends, they refer to Black people using the n-word.

Benjamin provides a lot of citations from the statistics and other types of data he uses to analyze Whitopian resident's responses to his inquiries about immigration, race relations, politics, and beyond.

He also speaks of how he is sick of the binary of "black-white" America, and that America is too diverse for the mainstream to keep on falling back on the old school way of looking at race relations, which paints the picture that it's an easy binary of black/white. He brings in class, age, geography, and the fact that Latinos, Asians, and people who are multi-ethnic destroy the old race relations model of "black-white" America.

All and all, I enjoyed reading the book. He is a good writer and deals with the subject of the "Obama" era of race and immigration in a very engaging and not so judgmental way.
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Format: Hardcover
I am coming to this book "only" 7 years after it was published and almost a decade since Rich Benjamin spent time living in three different "whitopias" around the country, yet, sadly, many of his observations are still relevant today. And while this book has been around for an extended time, it is still very worth reading--far more than Waking Up White, for example, even though that was just published in 2014.

One of the most refreshing characteristics about the entire book is the author's favorable and pleasing characterizations of the individuals he interacted with during his brave experiment in living in overtly segregated communities, even some who were expressing white supremacist views directly to him. "The majority of whites in predominately white communities across our heartland are endearing and kind. ...day-to-day interaction in some of the whitest parts of America, I discover, is quite pleasant." (p 184) As I read this and similar comments, I wondered, and worried about, whether he would be able to say the same thing if he were to try this bold experiment today.

Just because he is able to see the real people behind some problematic attitudes, however, he does not gloss over the significant issues he sees being lived out in so many parts of the country. "Structural racism exists across institutions, public policy, and other important domains (education, the judiciary, real estate, etc.). The difference between interpersonal racism and structural racism is huge." (p 190) Once again, I could only feel deep sadness, frustration, and anger, when I considered how little progress (and perhaps how much regression) has been made since the book was published.
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